In the run up to Christmas, shoppers will be looking for the best gifts available in the shops for their loved ones. An undercover investigation has revealed the lives of workers in Chinese toy factories and the conditions they work in all for the festive period. Charlotte Reid has the details.
An investigation called Making Toys Without Joy took place last summer at factories in China that make goods for Lego, Marks and Spencer and Disney. It revealed that for people to have an enjoyable present-filled Christmas, workers in factories in Shenzhen and Dongguan have been overworked to cope with the Christmas workload.
Hong Kong human rights group Students and Scholars Against Corporate Misbehaviour (Sacom) found out that, in some cases, employees would work 140 hours overtime a month and were paid their wages up to a month late.
Some claimed that they were told to work with dangerous tools without adequate training. Others said they had to work in silence and if they went to the toilet without permission, they were fined the equivalent of £5.
All three companies involved in this revelation say they are taking the claims seriously. Lego, which says some of its books are produced by the Hung Hing printing company, released a statement on their website which said, “The reported investigation into working practices at the factory has raised serious issues. We take this information very seriously and have immediately asked our licensing partner to assess conditions at the factory”.
Unfortunately, stories of workers on the factory floor being exploited aren’t new. In 2010 an undercover investigation into the Taiwan firm Foxconn’s factory revealed the shocking amount of stress for some workers who were turning to suicide.
By the time the story was out in May 2010, 16 workers at the factory had tried to take their own lives, with 12 deaths.
The stresses came from workers not being able to cope with a shortage of staff and with the sheer demand to make new orders. Whilst the employees are working to make high tech products for Apple, Dell and Sony, their monthly wages meant they couldn’t even afford to buy the goods that they were making.
Meanwhile, Disney, which is linked to the Making Toys Without Joy report by Sacom, has been connected to sweatshop claims previously.
In August 2011, it was claimed by Sacom that a factory manufacturing goods for Mattel, which makes toys of Disney’s hit films like Cars 2 and Toy Story, were made using child labour and employees working three times over the legal amount of overtime to meet the demand for the products.
Back in 2005, it was discovered by Sacom and the National Labour Committee that in the Hung Hing factory in Hong Kong, making Disney books for children was a dangerous occupation. Workers were regularly being injured making books as they suffered from crushed and broken fingers, and in some instances, death.
On Disney’s website, it says 17,000 sites currently have licenses to make Disney branded items. However, its website does say “when organisations or individuals bring concerns to our attention, we do investigate and where possible try to work with the organisation to identify a resolution to the situation”.
Sacom’s Making Toys Without Joy report concludes by saying that the factories and the companies involved “must take immediate steps to remedy the problems”.
What is needed is to break the chain? Well, what’s fuelling the poor working conditions in sweatshops is the consumer’s desire for toys, technology and more, as quickly and as cheaply as possible. To avoid this, ask if what you are buying was made in a sweatshop, buy what you can locally, so you know where it came from, and buy fair trade.
Picture source: davidd